Our Efforts in the News

Below, find some of the recent media about the Joyful Heart Foundation's efforts to end the rape kit backlog in the news. For even more about our work in the news, visit www.joyfulheartfoundation.org.

For media inquiries, email media@endthebacklog.org.

Will new focus on rape kit tests put thousands behind bars?

By Sharon Cohen
May 30, 2015
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The evidence piled up for years, abandoned in police property rooms, warehouses and crime labs. Now, tens of thousands of sexual assault kits are giving up their secrets — and rapists who've long remained free may finally face justice.

A dramatic shift is taking hold across the country as police and prosecutors scramble to process these kits and use DNA matches to track down sexual predators, many of whom attacked more women while evidence of their crimes languished in storage. Lawmakers, meanwhile, are proposing reforms to ensure this doesn't happen again.

"There's definitely momentum," says Sarah Haacke Byrd, managing director of the Joyful Heart Foundation, an advocacy group working on the issue. "In the last year, we really are seeing the tide turn where federal and state governments are offering critically needed leadership and critically needed resources to fix the problem."

In Cleveland, the county prosecutor's office has indicted more than 300 rape suspects since 2013, based on newly tested DNA evidence from old kits. Authorities expect to eventually charge 1,000.

In Houston, authorities recently cleared a backlog of nearly 6,700 kits that included cases dating back to the 1980s. The project, which cost about $6 million, turned up 850 matches in a national DNA database.

In Detroit, the Wayne County prosecutor's office is seeking donations to help analyze, investigate and prosecute cases from the results of more than 11,000 kits that had been untested. Hamstrung by city and county money troubles, the prosecutor has formed an unusual partnership with two nonprofits to raise $10 million. So far, contributions have poured in from corporations and residents from all 50 states and eight foreign countries.



Despite DNA, the Rapist Got Away

By Nicholas Kristof
May 10, 2015
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ROBBINS, Ill. — NATASHA, 14, had just gotten off the school bus after ninth-grade basketball practice one evening and was walking home on a quiet street beside a creek. When she heard footsteps behind her, she thought it was one of her classmates.

Instead, it was a man who grabbed her and threw her over a fence into a wooded area beside the creek. He beat her, stripped her and raped her, she says, and then dragged her into the creek and plunged her head under the water.

A couple of times, he pulled her head up to see if she was still breathing. So she says that the next time she pretended to be dead. He kicked her body further into the stream and then left.

Natasha says she waited and, when she was sure he had gone, waded back to shore and ran home. Her family rushed her to the hospital, where she endured hours of humiliating scrutiny as nurses collected a rape kit: DNA, hairs, fibers, anything that could be found on her body. The police took a statement from Natasha and picked up the rape kit from the hospital.

Then they did nothing. For years.

That was 1991. The Police Department here in Robbins, a struggling, low-income suburb of 5,000 people just south of Chicago, allowed rape kits to sit untested on the shelves. Officers don’t seem to have seriously investigated the assault, and the rapist got away with his crime — even as Natasha was tormented by it.


Manhattan D.A. pledges $35M to end untested 'rape kit' backlog in U.S.

By James Queally
November 12, 2014
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The Manhattan district attorney's office has pledged up to $35 million in grant money to help end a nationwide backlog of untested "rape kits," a move that could help uncover serial offenders after similar efforts led to a slew of convictions in Detroit.

New York County Dist. Atty. Cyrus Vance Jr. said Wednesday that his office will use funds seized through asset forfeiture laws, including recent cases where defendants were convicted of violating international sanctions, to support the reform effort.

"Testing rape kits sends a fundamental and crucial message to victims of sexual violence: You matter. What happened to you matters. Your cases matter."

- Mariska Hargitay, president and founder of the Joyful Heart Foundation

“To have hundreds of thousands of rape kits untested is unacceptable. Rape victims nationwide deserve to know that the invasive examination they underwent had a purpose, and the resulting kit was not left to gather dust on a forgotten shelf," Vance Jr. said at a news briefing. "But more than that, DNA evidence, consistently prosecutors’ most reliable and cost-effective tool, solves crimes across state lines."


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